Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Lincoln in the Bardo: Chapter 95-96 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mrs. Francis Hodge explains that she and a number of other black souls refrained from entering the chapel, since in life they were generally forbidden to do so. When Lincoln emerges, though, he walks right through her, and she briefly glimpses his internal world, which is saddled with the responsibility of the nation. Moving on, he approaches Thomas Havens, who surprises himself by jumping into the president and matching his stride. Walking along, he discovers that he enjoys occupying Lincoln. He even wants the president to know him and his people. “I don’t know why I felt that way but I did,” he says. “He had no aversion to me, is how I might put it. Or rather, he had once had such an aversion, still bore traces of it, but, in examining that aversion, pushing it into the light, had somewhat, already eroded it.”
Once again, Saunders shows that various forms of bigotry have made their way into the Bardo, as people like Mrs. Hodge don’t feel comfortable entering chapels even in a spiritual, non-corporeal realm. Interestingly enough, though, while the mores of racism have largely followed black souls into the Bardo, Thomas Havens is surprised to find a hopeful sense of equality when he enters the president. Indeed, Lincoln’s “aversion” to black people—though still extant in the president—has been diminished by his own introspection. In this way, Saunders suggests that if a person examines their own biases with an open mind inclined toward empathy, their bigotry is likely to erode.
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Havens notices that Lincoln has been changed by the souls who recently inhabited him, an experience that has opened him up. “He had not, it seemed, gone unaffected by that event,” he remarks. “Not at all. It had made him sad. Sadder. We had. All of us, white and black, had made him sadder, with our sadness. And now, though it sounds strange to say, he was making me sadder with his sadness.” Because of this, Havens decides to present Lincoln with all the sorrows related to his existence as a black man in America, holding nothing back as he directs his mind to the hardships of people like Litzie Wright and Mrs. Hodge. “We are ready, sir,” he says, “are angry, are capable, our hopes are coiled up so tight as to be deadly, or holy: turn us loose, sir, let us at it, let us show what we can do.”
In this moment, Havens confirms that Lincoln has been profoundly altered by the mass-inhabitation. This is perhaps why he feels “freshly inclined toward sorrow” as he walks out of the cemetery—as Havens points out, the Bardo-dwellers have made him “sadder,” and he has made them sadder, too. This exchange of emotions indicates just how fully the souls and Lincoln united, as they shared one another’s deepest feelings. In turn, Havens harnesses the connection he now has with the president to inspire Lincoln to do everything he can to act on behalf of the millions of black Americans who have been heartlessly disenfranchised by the country’s pervasive racism. 
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